"La Posadas," the remarkable buildup to Christmas Eve, is perhaps the most delightful and unique Mexican tradition. Beginning December 16th, it commemorates the events in the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
After dark, each night of the "Posada," a procession begins led by two children. The children carry a small pine-decorated platform bearing replicas of Joseph and Mary riding a burro. Other members of the company, all with lighted long slender candles, sing the "Litany of the Virgin" as they approach the door of the house assigned to the first "Posada." Together they chant an old traditional song and awaken the mast of the house to ask lodging for Mary. Those within the house threaten the company with beatings unless they move on. Again, the company pleads for admittance. When the owner of the house finally learns who his guests are, he jubilantly throws open the doors and bids them welcome. All kneel around the manger scene or "Nacimiento" and offer songs of welcome, Ave Marias and a prayer.
Now it's time of the "Pinata," refreshments and dancing. The "Pinata" is a pottery (or paper) container, brightly decorated and filled with candy and toys. It is hung from he ceiling or a tree. One by one, the children are blindfolded, turned around and instructed to strike the Pinata with a stick. Usually several attempts are made before the container is broken. Of course, when that happens, there is an explosion of goodies and a scattering of children.
On Christmas Eve another verse is added to the Ave Marias, telling the Virgin Mary that the desired night has come. Small children dressed as shepherds stand on either side of the nativity scene while members of the company kneel and sing a litany, after which the Christ Child is lulled to sleep with the cradle song, "El Rorro" (Babe in Arms).
At midnight the birth of Christ is announced with fireworks, ringing bells and blowing whistles. Devout worshipers surge into churches to attend the famous "Misa de Gallo" or "Mass of the Rooster." Following Mass, families return home for a tremendous dinner of traditional Mexican foods. The dishes vary with the different regions. However, somewhat common are the ,"tamales," rice, rellenos, "atole" (a sweet traditional drink) and "menudo," which is said to be more sobering than strong coffee.
Christmas Day has no special celebration though many have adopted the American style Christmas with a Christmas tree and Santa Claus.
Of Special Note...
Mexican children delight in the game where the "Pinata," a pottery or paper container, many times shaped like a bull or donkey, is filled with candy and suspended from the ceiling on a rope. Each child is blindfolded and attempts to break the Pinata with a stick or bat. The child who succeeds is the hero of the festival and the candy is shared by all.
Champurrado (Chocolate Atole)
6 cups whole milk
1 cup masa harina--corn flour
2 cups water
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, grated
1 cinnamon stick
Heat the mild and chocolate in a saucepan, stirring to dissolve the chocolate. When chocolate is completely dissolved, remove from the heat and set aside to keep warm. Mix the masa harina with the water in another saucepan; place over low heat, add the cinnamon stick, and cook until the mixture has thickened and the masa becomes translucent. Add the chocolate milk and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar and simmer for a few minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and serve the champurrado hot in cups or mugs.
Arroz Dulce (Rice Sweet)
¾ cup rice
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
4 cups milk
1 cup rich cream
¼ tsp. salt
Scald milk. Put the rice into a deep baking dish, cover with the hot milk, and bake in a moderate oven for 3 hours, or until the rice is soft. Stir occasionally during first hour to prevent sticking. If necessary, add more hot milk. When almost done, add vanilla, sugar, and cream, and finish baking.